We are in Lent, traditionally a time of self examination and fasting. Many take on a discipline of doing without during Lent. Some take on additional service. With only minor clarifications, the pandemic has imposed a Lenten experience on all of us. We have been doing without for a long season.
Let us find a way to use this time not to get lost in the difficulty of the journey but to become enlivened in the hope of the destination! In just this fashion, the Psalms of Ascent came to have their being! Words of the songs, or Psalms from 120-134, comforted our faithful forbears when they returned from exile to their beloved home of Jerusalem, up to Mount Zion.
The Psalms of Ascent have many names: Gradual Psalms, Songs of Degrees, Songs of Steps, Songs for Going Up to Worship or Pilgrim Songs. We have been considering the Psalms of Ascent as individual poems which were later collected together and given the title linking them to pilgrimage after the Babylonian captivity. But scholars have various explanations for when and where these Psalms were sung.
Some believe that the psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals . Others think they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem. One view says the Levites first sang the Songs at the dedication of Solomon's temple during the night of the fifteenth of Tishri 959 BC. Another study suggests that they were composed for a celebration after Nehemiah's rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls in 445 BC.
In which scenario would you like to see yourself? Would you like to be attending a festival or going to a concert? Ministering at the temple or volunteering at the clinic? Going to a dedication, such as the new town hall in Ashland? Celebrating completion of a project, like the railroad updates or a house in the Habitat for Humanity neighborhood? Or just reading poetry—Mary Oliver, Amanda Gordon or that of a creative friend?
Wearing whatever scenario suits you, consider Psalm 126. Pray the Psalm as if your fortunes are being restored. And/or be transported back to the origin of the Shir ha ma’alot, the Song of Ascent, and our faith through this audio/visual performance in Hebrew with subtitles.